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What exactly happened with the Stevie Wonder concert deal intended to raise money for the University of Hawaii Athletics Department?
Was it a $200,000 scam, as university officials have suggested, or a business deal gone bad, as former UH Athletics Director Jim Donovan — who lost the AD job as a result of the blown concert — has described it?
The benefit concert is at the heart of Senate special committee examining the accountability and transparency of operational and financial management at the University of Hawaii. It has raised serious questions and embarrassed the state’s premier education institution.
In addition to concerns about how the UH operates, lawmakers are frustrated that a fact-finders’ report into the matter was heavily redacted, leaving the media and the public in the dark about what exactly happened.
Kim and Sen. Les Ihara, who also sits on the Senate Special Committee on Accountability, have asked the state’s Office of Information Practices to determine whether the redactions were valid. OIP is tasked with promoting open and transparent government.
“I have read much of the unredacted material, and it’s somewhat revealing,” Ihara told Civil Beat Saturday. “It shows what might be the relationships and about what’s going on amongst the competing national and international agents for Stevie Wonder.”
Good government watchdogs like Ian Lind have also cast a critical eye on the redacted records.
“Crisis experts advise candor,” Lind blogged Wednesday. “What UH relied on instead was a law firm getting paid up to $300 per hour plus expenses to redact information from documents without regard to the state’s public records law, a public relations firm to solicit letters and testimony urging lawmakers to back off, and other steps that just don’t add up to a commitment to transparency.”
Ihara said he did not know when OIP would issue an advisory.
But he has been advised by OIP that the law firm that redacted the fact-finders’ report — Torkildson, Katz, Moore, Hetherington & Harris — might have inappropriately performed a “blanket” redaction rather than only making redactions for personnel or privacy reasons.
Robert Katz, the firm’s director, told lawmakers that all non-UH employees and organizations were redacted from the fact-finders’ report, which was conducted by another law firm, Cades Schutte.
The redactors made mistakes — former UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw’s name, for example, was redacted. Other redactions, like the names of Stevie Wonder and local promoter Bob Peyton, seem unnecessary, given the many press reports that have already mentioned them.
During the Sept. 24 hearing, Kim told Katz that the redaction of names on billings and contracts appeared not in compliance with Hawaii Revised Statutes 92-F, which addresses disclosure of public records.
Katz said he wasn’t familiar with the redactions she was referring to.
You didn’t know? Kim responded, incredulous. She said it’s frustrating that so many things are redacted and asked how closely he followed the public records law, chapter 92-F.
Ihara told Katz that the public has a right to know about public contracts, with only some exceptions.
He asked if Katz had consulted with OIP.
“No,” said Katz.
Later during the hearing, Kim also complained to UH President M.R.C. Greenwood about the difficulty in obtaining information from the university.
Greenwood replied that she believed releasing the redacted reports was “pretty transparent.”
Kim fired back that the issue is transparency. When you withhold something, she said, people think that you’re hiding something.
The fact-finders’ report and related documents, which can be viewed on the Senate committee’s website, are voluminous.
Reviewing the documents is a little like reading the Watergate transcripts, except that the UH redactions are whited out rather than blacked out and there are no expletives to delete.
Many of the important details about the failed benefit concert have been reported in the press, like the fact that the UH did not have cancellation insurance and that Donovan was not copied on emails regarding the transfer of UH funds.
But an examination of the documents by Civil Beat reveals that there seems to have been a lot of negotiation and planning between multiple parties to arrange for the concert. Knowing the names of the parties could greatly help the media and public understand more about what was actually going on.
Here’s just one example, taken from the fact-finders’ report (Civil Beat uses dashes in place of the whiteouts to improve readability):
On July 9 and 10, 2012, UH was contacted by individuals from – – – – – who identified themselves as – – – – – ‘s exclusive agents. The – – – – – representatives informed UH that – – – – – and – – – – – were not authorized agents, that the concert was not confirmed and that – – – – – was not available for the concert.
There are many more such entries in the fact-finders’ report, and they can sometimes come off as comical.
But they also sometimes reveal how the participants were feeling as events developed, as seen in a July 9 email from Rich Sheriff, manager of the Stan Sheriff Center named for his late father:
Sheriff sent an email to – – – – – informing him of – – – – – ‘s email and asking him how quickly the University could have the $200,000 deposit refunded if he and – – – – – could not work out an arrangement. Attachment 153. In the same email, Sheriff stated, “Needless to say [,] the President and the Chair of the Board of Regents are furious. It will be a miracle if Jim and I still have a job by Friday.”
Sheriff and Donovan were placed on administrative leave that Wednesday — two days before Sheriff predicted and two days after Sheriff’s email. Sheriff was later reinstated while Donovan was hired to handle brand marketing out of Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple’s office.
Meanwhile, in the attachments portion of the fact-finders’ report, Torkildson, Katz provides more explanation about the un-redacted report.
… the un-redacted set is also marked “Confidential” and provided with the University of Hawaii’s request that it not be disclosed publicly to avoid any possible impairment of the FBI’s ongoing investigation or the privacy rights of innocent third parties.
In that same memo to Kim, dated Sept. 19, the law firm states, “While every reasonable effort was made to locate, reproduce and deliver all documents requested by you from Chair [Eric] Martinson and President Greenwood in the limited time provided,” it was possible that some documents were not produced.
Torkildson, Katz advised it would try to get any other requested documents to Kim’s committee by this Tuesday’s hearing.
The briefing materials mention directly the names of Stevie Wonder and Bob Peyton, a local promoter, though numerous names are redacted elsewhere in the material.
Yet, Wonder’s name is also redacted in sections.
One of those redacted sections, the draft of a press release for the concert, makes awfully clear who is being referred to — at least for anyone capable of checking, say, Wonder’s Wikipedia entry:
His mom moved the family to Detroit, where he began singing in the choir. He was signed by – – – – – to – – – – – , and was the youngest performer to achieve a No. 1 record at the age of 13: “Fingertips, Part 2”.
His infectious spirit and joy has permeated all of his recordings, with highlights including For Once In My Life, Talking Book, Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life.
The attachments include an Aug. 1 fact-finders’ interview with someone who appears to be a local promoter, perhaps Peyton. At one point the person being interviewed states:
I was still negotiating with – – – – – . One issue was the transfer of money. – – – – – is based in Spain. I did not want to transfer money to a foreign account. – – – – – proposed using Florida as a depository. I don’t recall why. It sort of just evolved. Perhaps it was because Florida was about midway between my time zone and – – – – – ‘s time zone.
The attachments also show what look like an exchange of emails — possibly between booking agents — trying to seal the deal for the concert. This all-caps excerpt comes from a May 18 email between unidentified parties:
I WAS TOLD THAT I WOULD HAVE THE MONEY WEDNESDAY.
I TALKED TO MY PEOPLE TODAY AND THEY SAID THEIR LAWYER WAS SENDING IT TO ME.
AS I SAID … TOO DAMN MANY … BLOODY LAWYERS.
THESE PEOPLE SEEM TO TO MAKE DECISIONS IN 3 OR 4 DAY TIME PERIODS … WE MOVE IN HOURS.
EVERYONE IS TRYING TO GET A “TASTE” … WHEN THE WHOLE DEAL IS RUNNING OUT OF TIME.
The author of the email later writes, “I am frustreated [sic] and readey [sic] to pull the plug myself.”
On July 9, Greenwood received emails from what appears to be Wonder’s real agent, who is surprised to learn that his client is booked to play Stan Sheriff Center on Aug. 18:
Respectfully, I have no idea who – – – – – is, or where they are based. I am not sure why you would have sent anyone $250,000 without checking with an official representative of – – – – – .
This is not an issue of working something out amicably, I do not even know if he is available on the 18th. He may have personal plans. …
I am actually more surprised that you did not do your research and due diligence about who – – – – – is, and if this was really a confirmed date.
But at this time, this is NOT a confirmed show. It should not be on sale, and it should not be advertised. …
[P]lease understand, no one on – – – – – ‘s team knew about this offer, or confirmed it as an engagement.